Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beyond the Veil by Stevie Woods

Robert Charteris watched as the Ocean Pearl tied up at the dock. He had been expecting the ship to return to Tripoli for two days now. The Reis of the Pearl seemed to prefer to capture slaves than any other kind of cargo.

Robert approached the gangplank and he was bowed on board as a Janissary, representing the Pasha of Tripoli. It was the perfect disguise for Robert to adopt. He spoke the language perfectly, having spent most of his life in the region, and he knew how to act and what to expect from others. Robert’s disguise as a Janissary would get him through any door, but if he were caught in his deception his death would be quick in the sentencing but not quick in the execution.

His burnoose was a rich dark blue silk trimmed with gold embroidery, covering matching dark blue pantaloons with a white shirt slit to the waist at the front in the Turkish style. He wore a broad sash around his waist of twisted black, blue, and white cloth in which he carried his sword and long knife. One corner of his burnoose, which fastened across his upper chest with a thick golden clasp, was draped across his lower face and clipped to the hood so all that could be seen were his dark brown eyes. He looked the epitome of an upper class servant of a ruler of the Ottoman Empire, a perfect disguise for a European.

Aram, his friend and the closest person in the world to him since his parents died, was ever watchful as he paced a few steps behind, acting as Robert’s aid and manservant.

Robert trod a dangerous path but he had known that for the past fifteen years and it was a risk he took willingly. He had seen too much, experienced too much to be able to live with himself without trying to help these poor souls who had done nothing to deserve the fate that awaited them on the slave block in Tripoli.

Robert approached the captain’s cabin just as the door was flung open. A large rough looking man was pulling a lad, not much older than sixteen, out of the cabin. A beautiful young woman with long blonde hair and snapping blue eyes was hotly pursuing him.

“No, please do not take him! I told you I would do anything if you let him be,” she cried, trying to pull the young lad from the pirate’s grasp.

A voice from inside barked, “Stop that. Do as I say!”

“Please, I beg of you. Let him stay with me. I promised.” The young woman was openly crying now.

Robert felt his stomach clench; he understood exactly what the young woman was willing to do for the safety of the boy, who on closer inspection, was probably her young brother. He had the same fair colouring and blue eyes.

“Bring him back, Achmed. I’ll think on it,” the voice from inside ordered.

The pirate snarled but did as his Reis ordered, shoving the boy back inside and slamming the door.

He saw Robert and Aram watching, recognized the status of the guests by their garb, and gave them a quick bow accompanied by a sly grin. “Just in time to see our cargo,” the pirate growled. Behind him was the echoing report of a bolt being pulled and then the ship’s hold was thrown open.

Robert watched empathetically as about thirty men slowly climbed out of the hold, most of them shielding their eyes from the harsh North African sun. It was obvious that most of them were sailors, though Robert could see a few passengers among them, two of the men obviously wealthy and one of those had his arm around a youth, presumably his son. They would likely be separated and held for ransom.

From across the deck three women were brought out and though Robert wished he could help them he knew it was virtually impossible for captured women to escape. However, his only purpose here today was to see how many and what kinds of prisoners the Pearl had brought in this time and report his findings to the Brothers of the Saviour, who attempted to ease the collection of the ransom demanded for those who could afford it and try to raise funds for those who could not. Any other information he could gather would be for his own purposes.

Sometimes all that could be done was to get a message home so that at least the family knew their relative was alive, albeit as a slave. Robert sometimes wondered if it was not better to let go of the hope, kinder to believe they were dead than to imagine them alive in such terrible circumstances. He had never been able to let go of his hope and it haunted his life all these years.

* * * *

In the darkness of the hold, David thought over his talk with Winstanley, some of it he already knew, some he wished Winstanley had not told him, but it would not do him any good to hide from the truth. David might be lucky and be bought to teach some rich Turk’s sons.

Of course, he could just as easily be bought for a variety of other reasons; to be a servant in a palace or rich man’s house, or to work in the fields or worst of all, the mines in the desert. The lifespan for such slaves was not very long. David tried to steel himself for the ordeal ahead, but he did not think he was a very brave man.

The sound of shouting on deck drifted down below and David thought one of the voices sounded like that of a female and, once again, he wondered as to the fate of Suzanna Bateson and her young brother. The boy had not been brought down here with the others and during the night David wondered if he were even still alive.

The noise died away and the sun blinded them again as the hold cover was lifted away. Voices yelled down for the occupants to come up on deck and nervously David followed, keeping close to Winstanley, finding a comfort in the presence of the other man.

Just then, the Reis exited his cabin and stepped onto the deck. He was a daunting presence as he made a small speech in a strangely accented voice offering the chance for the sailors to swear their fealty and join the Corsair fleet.

The seamen quickly muttered between themselves, probably confirming what they had already decided during their incarceration in the hold overnight. All but two of them stepped forward, agreeing to the demand, but Winstanley flatly refused, as did a younger sailor who said he could not in all conscience turn his hand against his fellow man.

David felt concern for the first mate, though he was not altogether surprised by his decision.

At the captain’s order the prisoners were then separated by Achmed, the pirate first mate; those for the slave market were to be taken ashore by some of the pirate crew. The rich prisoners and the women were kept together, away from the group David and Winstanley were in. As the sailors going ashore were pushed forward roughly, Winstanley was inadvertently propelled hard enough that he slipped. Achmed took exception to this, shoving Winstanley even harder so he sprawled on the deck, landing heavily.

Before David realized it he was helping the older man. “That was unnecessary!” he snapped angrily, his eyes blazing as he turned to the pirate.

The pirate made to strike him for his audacious interference and David braced himself for the blow when the captain’s voice rang out. “Wait. Bring him forward.”

As the huge pirate grabbed his arm, yanking him forward, David was afraid but determined not to show it as he was dragged before the captain. The swathed man stared at him and then leisurely looked him up and down before he walked slowly around him.

David was puzzled by the captain’s peculiar expression as he surveyed him, even walking around him like he was some prize at a fair.

The longer the captain regarded him, the more David’s confusion turned to apprehension. Then when Achmed grabbed his shirt and tore it to shreds, fear crashed through him. He staggered, partly from his physical reaction to the assault and partly from shock. It took a second for him to regain his balance and to still the pounding of his heart.

David swung back to look at the captain standing behind him, disturbed by the way the man was just staring at him. He felt a knot form in his belly and a throbbing began in his temple and David could not help the cold chill that swept over him. He turned away from the burning eyes and tried to concentrate on a point on the horizon, wishing he were that far away from the black-draped avaricious pirate.

The Reis smiled and reached forward. Suddenly David felt a hand untying the ribbon in his hair and fingers combing through it a couple of times before finally shaking it loose, as the pirate slowly moved around to his side. David managed to contain his revulsion and stood still, until the hand moved away, releasing his hair to fall forward over his shoulders.

* * * *

Watching the proceedings, Robert was forced to suppress a gasp as he too got a good look at the young stranger for the first time. He was tall, maybe six foot, lean and long of limb. He was extremely handsome with fair hair and eyes of an unusually dark shade of blue.

Robert saw the look of mounting confusion in the stranger’s eyes as he stared at the captain before turning back to look again at a point only he could see. The man’s skin was a little pale but had a smooth appearance to it that made Robert long to know if it felt as silky as it looked. Robert also reconsidered his assumption that the young captive was lean; the shirt had hidden a musculature belying the soft look of his face. He was beautiful and inwardly Robert groaned. Men like him faced only one future as a slave in this empire.

The captain simply smiled and said sharply to his first mate, “Take him! You know where.”

Robert clenched his fists under his burnoose and was surprised when the older sailor suddenly spoke, crying out in anguish. “David, no!”

He clearly understood the implications, too.

* * * *

David’s stomach flipped at the captain’s expression and he vaguely heard Winstanley’s voice calling to him. He turned to see Achmed backhand the seaman. His control snapped and he anxiously called out to Winstanley before demanding of Achmed, “Let him alone!” Achmed ignored him and David desperately turned to the captain. “What is going on?”

The Reis did not answer, instead he snapped a command at the pirates to lead the other prisoners away, Winstanley struggling as they did so. Dismissing them from his mind, the captain turned back to his prey, horror creeping through David as he did so.

“You are too good to go with these others,” the Reis said, reaching up to brush a finger down David’s face and he thrummed with tension. “You are most attractive. I know just the place for you. You’ll fetch a high price.”

At those words the knot in David’s stomach tightened with fear. Fear that kept him rigid as the captain’s hand began a journey down his chest. David could not help his shudder of revulsion as the captain pulled at a nipple but he was held firmly in place by Achmed.

The captain’s hand continued unabated across his stomach toward his groin. David desperately tried not to react to the touch but when the captain’s hand cupped and caressed him through his trousers, his body betrayed him. He closed his eyes trying to will himself not to react, but he could not help his gasp as his captor slid a hand inside his britches and touched his bare flesh.

The man’s movements aroused David against his will and his eyes flew open as his cock began to fill. The caresses became firmer and David was ashamed because his cock responded to the unwanted excitement filling him. He felt tears burn behind his eyes at the humiliation as he struggled against his own natural inclinations and with a cold fury he decided he would not let the bastard do this to him.

He raised his eyes aloft, fighting to bring his body back under his control, desperately trying to quell his arousal. He remembered the battle, the death, the blood, poor Tom and Suzanna and the others who would yet suffer. A hatred he did not know he possessed flooded him because of this man touching him. But even the hatred could not stop his orgasm at the man’s practiced touch, and he came over the pirate’s hand inside his own britches. Deeply humiliated, David lowered his eyes, turning away from the man before him.

As David turned from the lecherous captain his glance fell on another Turk, this one dressed richly in dark blue robes embroidered with gold silks. Almost against his will David raised his eyes and met those of this wealthy...what, a merchant? To his surprise he found a pair of warm brown eyes regarding him with...compassion? The regard of this stranger somehow gave him back his strength, his belief in his own worth. He met the look with one of sudden appreciation before again turning to stare at a point on the horizon.

David thought he had been afraid before at the notion of being a slave, but now he understood precisely what the word really meant. The looks and actions of the captain towards him were only too clear. He should have known better, he who studied languages had not taken the word at its true meaning. A person under the total control of someone else, body and soul; to know the word was one thing but he had never truly understood the meaning; a meaning that would now apply to him.

He would be sold; he would belong to some person for them to do with what they would. His body would be there for someone else to use, forever beyond his choice. Oh dear God, how could he bear that?

“Achmed!” the captain’s voice broke David’s sad deliberation.

Achmed moved nearer and his commander spoke softly to the pirate. The man nodded, and moving quickly for such a large male, he went below deck. He soon hastened back with a rough burnoose in unbleached cotton, which he threw at David. “Put that on!”

David slipped the strange garment on and at a sign from Achmed he pulled up the hood. Achmed moved forward, grabbing his wrists and tying them together with thick cord before he fastened the neck clasp of the burnoose and hooked the veil across David’s face, smirking as he did so.

David did not understand why they wanted him to wear it but he did not bother to ask. Achmed picked up the ends of the cord about his wrists and led him across the deck. As he passed the rich merchant he felt compelled to raise his eyes and was sad to find the man wearing blue was not looking in his direction, and he was surprised at how cold he felt.

Cold Fire by Nicole Gestalt

The trail ahead was dark. Now that she was in the forest, she could no longer see the ground in front of her. Stumbling, she fell, her foot catching on a tree root. Crying out in pain, Alice forced herself to get back up and continue to run. In the distance dogs barked, and she could hear the sounds of her pursuers breaking through the undergrowth.

Straining to breathe, Alice ran on, stumbling at almost every step. Moving through the forest was hard going, every movement causing sharp pains to shoot through her bare feet. Sweat dripped into her eyes, making them sting and her vision blur. Wiping it away didn’t help, yet she kept on running.

Alice had no idea how much time had passed as she ran, nor in which direction she was headed. It was a moment before she noticed that the forest in front of her was beginning to thin and grow lighter. Running towards the area, she felt the earth underfoot quickly become wet and soft, then grow hard and bitterly cold. She began to lose all feeling in her feet as they pounded against soil that steadily became frozen the further she ran. The dogs sounded closer and she heard the men shouting. Turning, she caught a glimpse of their torches before her foot caught on an unseen obstacle, twisting underneath her. She hit the forest floor hard. Pain shot through her foot and up her leg, as she clawed at the remains of the fallen leaves, writhing in the cold. She rolled over to face the men as their shadowy forms moved through the trees towards her.

The dogs burst out of the surrounding trees, closely followed by the men. The burning torches lit their faces, twisted with hate and bitterness. Using her good leg, she pushed herself backward and continued to crawl slowly onward. Her heart raced, and she knew it was all going to be over soon. One of the men moved closer, barely holding his dog back, allowing it to bark and growl at her face. The beast’s saliva dripped onto her shoulder and she flinched away as it snarled at her. Alice closed her eyes as the rest of the men approached, not wanting them to see the fear that glimmered there in her unshed tears.

The dogs’ barks echoed, making them seem to be everywhere at once, and Alice waited for what was to come. She wasn’t sure how long she sat, nor could she say when everything went still, only that she slowly became aware that she was encircled by a deathly silence. Sitting still, the only noise Alice could hear was her heart beating. A shiver ran through her, and when she dared to breathe in, the air was icy cold. She felt chilled to the bone, and as Alice listened nervously, trying to hear anything, she thought she caught the sound of a gentle tinkle that reminded her of watching the frost forming on her windows in the dead of winter. The ground around her froze and grew icy under her fingertips. Alice couldn’t say what it was, but something didn’t feel quite natural about the whole situation. Scared, she blindly tried to back away from the peculiar noise, but as she began to move her hands slipped and she fell, causing her head to connect with the frozen ground. The last thing she heard as she slipped into unconsciousness was the tinkling growing deafeningly loud.

* * * *

Kevalan heard the commotion before he could see it. He waited, hidden by the foliage, as a panicked woman fell through the trees closely followed by a pack of baying hounds and many men. He knew of the village that they had come from, but it was the first time he had seen any of the people in many years. Anger filled him as he watched them chase the woman. When she fell, the men and their dogs quickly surrounded her. Only then did he step forward from the shadows. He gained a small amount of satisfaction at the fear and panic that flashed briefly across the men’s faces. As one, they all turned and ran, their hounds following closely behind, though it seemed more out of obedience than fear. Once they had gone Kevalan turned his attention to the young woman, now unconscious on the ground. He picked her up, noticing her blood-coated feet and the scratches covering her body. She weighed almost nothing in his arms and carried her easily as he carefully walked back to his home.

Over the years, many visitors had taken up brief periods of residence at his palace, but never anyone he had had to rescue. As Kevalan took her to one of the guest bedrooms, he wondered why she was running. Her clothes seemed nothing but rags, and readily fell apart at his touch. Laying the young woman down, he moved to clean her wounds and then gently bound them with soft cloth. Her skin was slightly tanned, and she had the look of someone who had worked outside her whole life, although she was painfully thin.

Kevalan looked upon her. He had pulled the covers up over her so she wouldn’t get cold. Hopefully she would wake after receiving the rest she apparently needed. However, as he gazed at her, he felt a stirring deep inside

Kevalan was an immortal being. His task, since time immemorial, was to travel to different planes, bringing the ice and snow that the worlds needed. The plane he was currently on, he visited only once a year, at their winter solstice. He kept to himself, and although occasionally village elders would attend a meeting with him to discuss a problem they were having. In more recent years, with magic fading, this had become an increasingly rare occurrence. Most of the people he met were in fear of him, or thought he would do them harm in some way. Now, as he watched the woman sleep, he felt a longing to be touched, a need for companionship and a fear that he would once more be left alone.

Filled with the urge to lay down with her and keep her safe, but frightened at the thought of scaring her and being left alone once more, Kevalan left the room. He walked around the palace for a time, unable to get the image of the woman out of his mind. He found everything about her tantalising; when he had picked her up she had smelt of the trees, her warm body had caused tingles to run through his own, her breasts had pushed up against him, causing his body to react to her closeness. Without realising it, Kevalan found that he had stopped just inside one of the central rooms in the palace. The walls were lined with mirrors through which any and every room could be seen, heard, and even scents smelt at will. Kevalan wasn’t sure of the purpose of this room exactly, just that it had always been this way. He rarely entered this room since he was on his own and it only served to remind him of that loneliness. However, now, as he looked over the mirrors, he located the one that portrayed her room and his heart leapt at seeing her.

At the furthest point from the mirror he could see her sleeping form. She had obviously been moving in her sleep; the covers had slipped a little from her body and he could just make out the gentle curve of her soft breasts. He could just smell the trees and her own warm scent as if he was still holding her. He wanted to kiss her ruby red lips, to take away the pain from her injuries and to hold her in his arms before lying her down and making love to her.

Visions of her naked body swam in front of him. Their bodies entwined as he pushed his cock deep inside her. Unconsciously, his hand had slipped into his breeches and he had taken hold of himself, as the images consumed his mind he began to move his hand up and down, pumping it faster.

She screamed out his name as they made love, raked his back with her nails and thrust her breasts up for him to suckle. Keeping her in his tight embrace, he pushed himself deeper into her; with each thrust, their passions overriding anything else, forcing them to act solely on their desires and physical needs. He kissed her passionately as he exploded inside of her, his body tensing before they collapsed and held one another lovingly on the bed.

Kevalan let out a cry of pleasure as he came, then a swift wave of guilt at losing control and playing with himself to her image flooded through him. Still, he stood for a short while, looking at the mirror. His eyes prickled with tears as he thought of her leaving. He knew it was strange to see her as part of the palace ,since she had been unconscious and hadn’t even seen him, but he hoped perhaps she would stay. There was just something about her that made him feel complete and he knew that he would feel more acutely alone if she left.

He wanted to be there when she woke up, to try to explain how it was that she came to be in a palace of ice. Once he had sorted himself out, he swiftly made his way to her room.